Phantom Host

Axina: Our Bond

The morning came bright and cold. Winters domination was gaining strength here in the southern fringes. They set out at dawn to hunt. It was a group of five people, and Axina accompanied them. She was on edge with excitement. For the first time in her nine-year-old life, she was allowed to go hunting with her maestro father, her chief grandfather, and her warrior uncles.

The Amaryllis Forest surrounded their city from all sides. The party entered the forest through the south. The grass sparkled on the ground covered with thin snow like the short silver hair of a boy. The stiff blades of grass crunched beneath their boots as they treaded through tall fluxsoot trees that were kept sparsely populated in the areas surrounding the city. Axinas eldest Uncle Brodin was leading the way as he kept his short battle spear ready at hand. He said that the forest was teaming with predators of all kinds. He warned Axina to remain on guard for there were predators that could shift their shape. Theyd hide in nature, waiting to jump you when you
e distracted. Theyd quickly take a bite out of you and then run away even before you start feeling pain.

It wasn safe for ordinary folks to go wander into the forest unprepared. People entered this forest only on a dare, never to return, and hunters, skilled and greedy enough to risk death for the profit of exotic and delicious meat that could only be found in the woods. The city had farms to raise enough livestock. So, the meat of the forest was a luxury, not a necessity. Then there were groups like Axinas family, who ventured into the forest without fear. Jungle beasts would have to put in extra effort to bring them harm, for they were people with influence over the supernatural.

Following uncle Brodin was Axina with her father, Damiyen Cornog. Axina looked up at him. There was a grave expression on her fathers oblong face. His white eyes were grim. Unkempt black hair hung around his drooping head, waving with the cold gust from the south. Father looked solemn. Axina had seen him this way only when he was with his men, conversing about operations of the Last Light. She wondered why he looked so serious on a hunt that was supposed to be recreational.

Behind them was her grandfather, the city chief Abbrahan Omrion. He was a man of over sixty years of age, and he smiled through his beard when Axina looked over her shoulder. She smiled back in response.

”Look Axina, Autaxium is moving again, ” grandpa said through his smile while pointing up at the sky.

Axina looked up. The planet Autaxiums shape was visible in the sky like a half-spherical dome, its other half fading into the blue. There were three crossed rings around it. The rings glowed a bright yellow. There were serpentine extensions attached to the rings, and sometimes they moved like the antennas of a creepy centipede. The enormity of that shape in the sky never failed to fill her with wonder. For a moment, she couldn tear her eyes off it.

”Don lose focus on the trail, my love, ” grandpa said softly. ”Thick roots are abundant here, waiting to trip you up and break your nose. ”

Axina blushed and returned her eyes to the ground.

”Why do those arms move, grandpa? ” Axina asked.

”Im afraid no one knows, ” grandpa said. ”But what are the basic reasoning for the low creatures like animals to move? For defense, to attack, or to gather food. I can imagine such a giant object ever needing food. And it moves so slow it couldn possibly attack anything. ”

Axinas eyes widened. ”So, it is defending itself? ”

Grandpa smiled. ”Someone has yet to figure that out for certain, my love. ”

Axina glanced up at the sky again. The antenna-like arms had stopped moving, frozen around the planet as if they had never moved at all.

”Father, what did you mean by animal? ” uncle Nathn said from behind grandpa. He was the youngest son of Abbrahan, and walked at the end of the line with his middle brother Johnath. Both carried bows and quivers on their backs.

”Yeah, you couldn possibly suggest that that entire planet is a living being, an animal, could you? ” uncle Johnath said with disbelief in his tone.

Grandpa had an odd look on his face as he glanced up at the planet Autaxium.

”It must be, ” he said. ”It couldn possibly be the work of people, could it? ”

A silence dawned on the marching line as they made progress through a jungle that grew thicker by the mile. Tall bushes were becoming common, and dense enough to block the path. Uncle Brodin had begun cutting them down with his battle spear to make way. He made it look effortless with his broad shoulders and thick arms. The bladed end of his spear was glowing red hot so that the bushes fell with a sharp ”sizzle ” from a single touch. Uncle Brodin was burning his bright to make it happen.

Axina fell back with Nathn and Johnath while grandpa moved up and walked with father.

”Have you been keeping up your archery training then? ” Johnath said smiling down at her. ”Or have you forgotten everything I taught you? ”

”I forgot nothing! ” Axina said. ”I practiced every day! ”

”Oh, have you now? ” Nathn observed her hands and said with pretend dismissal. ”Your hands tell me you
e lying. They look like the hands of a pampered princess. ”

”Im not pampered! ” Axina said defiantly. ”I did practice every day! Ill prove it to you when we find something! Then youll see! ”

Her uncles smiled, exchanging glances with each other. They knew that their sister had made Axina wear gloves during practice. Spirited or not, Axina was, after all, a princess.

”Oh, youll show us, will you? ” Johnath teased.

”How to miss the mark? ” Nathn added.

Axina groaned angrily and said, ”You guys are impossible! ”

Johnath and Nathn laughed.

e just happy you came to visit our little hovel, kiddo, ” Johnath patted Axina on the head. ”I thought youd forgotten us. ”

A gloom fell on Axinas face.

”I wanted to, and often asked if I could come to visit here, ” Axina said in a low voice. ”But father said we couldn go to places outside Anthurium whenever we wished. He said it was too dangerous. ”

Her uncles looked away suppressing their sighs. Anthurium was a town located far east of Amaryllis city. Thats where lord Cornog was from, the man with whom theyd wed their sister. The town of Anthurium had been under attack, so the high navari residing there had no choice but to disperse. But little Axina wasn made aware of this despairing fact, why lord Cornog had brought his family and men to Amaryllis seeking refuge.

”Doesn matter! ” Nathn said through a forced smile. ”You
e here now. With us. Nothing else matters anymore. ”

The gloom lifted from Axinas fair elfin face and she nodded.

”Man, I sure wish a Krave would show its face around here, ” Johnath said longingly. ”I still remember its taste on my tongue from last month. Ah, it was so delicious and soft and juicy. And its roasted smell? Oh! ”

”You said it, brother, ” Nathn said in a shaky voice, licking his lips. ”And I wish you didn . My hands will tremble, thats bad for hunting. ”

”You had Krave meat last month? ” Axina said accusingly. ”Thats not fair! Its been a year since we saw it on our plates! ”

”Sucks to be you then, honey, ” Nathn said pitilessly. ”You better start praying for one to show up- ”

”Save it! ” Johnath said with drooling determination. ”Im not going home without one! ”

”Me neither! ” Axina echoed, took a gulp, and felt the short bow on her back.

The bow was a gift from her grandfather. It was made from durable dark wood and it had gold patterns spiraling around it.

She had five arrows in a narrow quiver strapped around her thigh. Though enhanced by her bright, shed need no more than one arrow to take down a Krave, even a large adult, given that her arrow manages to find its vital point.

Nathn laughed. ”Oh, this hunt will be hilarious! ”

While they followed the path cut open by Brodin, chief Abbrahan studied his son-in-law from the corner of his eyes. Damiyen looked older now than the last time he saw him. Crows feet were showing at the side of his eyes, and the frown seemed to have taken permanent residence between his brows. The chief felt a twinge of pain inside his chest watching the younger man, visualizing the responsibilities weighing on Damiyens shoulders like a large sack full of rocks that he couldn lay down. Damiyen might not have been his offspring, but the chief was proud to call him his son, whatever kind it may be.

The chief took a moment to gather his thoughts before speaking to distract his son-in-law from the terrible burden he bore for all the high navari.

”Nefarious marchers from Iaena are trying to steal our bloods nobility, ” the chief said.

Damiyen was taken aback by the abrupt statement.

He looked at the chief, his father-in-law. ”I beg your pardon? ”

”The marchers? Im speaking of the marchers, ” the chief said, ”They
e like little girls, aren they? Dreaming of the pearls around the adults neck, oblivious to the fact of their unworthiness. ”

Damiyen stared at him for a while, before looking away and exhaling.

He nodded, and said, ”Id tend to agree. But Im not so sure nowadays. I fear that we underestimated them too much. ”

The chiefs eyes narrowed. ”How so? ”

”Well, my lord, the Dux was born among them. What if we were in the wrong all along? What if we mistook the old prophesy? ”

The chief scoffed. ”Don be stupid, my boy. That thing… that despicable monster has high navari blood running in it. Its a **ing bastard. ”

Damiyen stared at him for the second time. ”Thats news to me. How certain are you of this? ”

”Certain enough, ” the chief said.

Damiyens face lit up. ”Then, were you able to make further progress on the Periculum documents? ”

”Indeed, ” the chief nodded. ”Although not enough to call for a feast. That Dux is twice older than I am. The bright and gloom have been preserving its youth. And Im afraid that this flat world has changed much over the last one hundred years. So, it is difficult work deciphering the old runes, especially if they
e coded in out-of-style methods. You know, Im surprised that you didn get the update on my discovery. I made sure to send that to you even before I sent it to the headquarter of the Last Light. ”

Damiyen nodded and sighed. ”Im afraid it all went up in flames before I could find a chance to take a look at it. My home is gone. Anthurium is no more. ”

The chief smiled his kindest smile and briefly put his hand around Damiyens shoulder.

”Its going to be okay, my boy, ” the chief said. ”We
e in this together. ”

A silence followed the two of them as the line dug deeper into the forest. A furtive quietness hung around the forest air beside the singing of the wild winter birds, the constant buzzing of bugs, the distant cries of hungry beasts, and the sizzle and slashing of Brodins spear.

”Have you found anything else worthy of note? ” Damiyen asked the chief.

The chief shook his head. ”Im afraid not. So, how goes project Last Light? ”

Axina detached from her uncles and fell back from the group a bit when they began speaking amongst themselves about a girl. It was adult talk, and Axina found it incomprehensible. She understood that uncle Nathn was asking questions about the younger sister of Johnaths fiancée to which Johnath was replying amusingly. However, the purpose of it was unclear to her. It seemed grandpa was talking about something with father with a serious face, she couldn go and join them either. So, she got bored and began observing nature embracing the winter.

Uncle Brodins spear stopped when they reached a small clearing. The forest thinned here considerably. Undergrowth was nonexistent. The floor of the jungle was, however, uneven with small odd-shaped mounds here and there, completely covered in snow. It felt strange. There was a smell too. It hung in the air. Faint. Yet somehow it had an edge to it and made Axinas insides sink.

The line began crossing the clearing. Thats when it happened. Grandpa and father were still talking, and so were her uncles. Axinas eyes kept scanning her surroundings. Something was making the back of her neck tingle. A sudden noise came from the far left, like the breaking of crispy bread. She spun in that direction. For a moment, she failed to discern what she was supposed to be looking at. But then she realized that a portion of the bark of a nearby fluxsoot tree was changing its shape, twisting, and turning into a three-foot-long bitefly with green striped hide! It bared its saw-like teeth at her, didn hiss, instead jumped at her!

点击屏幕以使用高级工具 提示:您可以使用左右键盘键在章节之间浏览。

You'll Also Like